Stephen King cut his teeth submitting short fiction to magazines. Legend has it that he hung his rejection letters from a nail in the wall. When the nail couldn’t take the weight he upgraded to a railroad spike, but King kept right on going.
The greatest skills an aspiring author can learn is to handle rejection gracefully.
Most of the time a publisher will send you a form letter that reads “We had so many amazing submissions that unfortunately we couldn’t include everyone in the collection.”
The reason you get a form letter is because you haven’t taken the time to build a relationship with the people you’re submitting to.
Now you could shoot them a “Thank you for the opportunity” e-mail like all the other sad saps desperate for a spot in their rolodex, but if you really want to be remembered you’ll need to show more initiative than that.
I’m not talking about inquiry about the publisher’s need in advance, printing your submissions on pink paper, or sending them fruit baskets. No. I’m talking about showing up on the publisher’s front door in a clown mask.
Leave an Impression that Truly Lasts
Most mid-level publishers aren’t based out of an office. They use a PO BOX to hide the fact that they work from home. So where is that? Well, the post office won’t answer a Boxholder Request Form from just anyone, especially without a subpoena, but a private investigator might have a guy on the inside who could fax them the 1093 form, if you’re willing to grease their wheels.
With the reverse lookup complete you’re going to rent a pair of bounce castles, NOT houses, castles. You’re a creative individual. So it should no problem for you to secure the rental without a paper trail. Use that same creative intelligence to convince the bounce castle employees to block both ends of a residential street without the tenants calling the police. Dress it up as community carnival.
If onlookers ask, “What’s going on here?” play it off like you’re acting on someone else’s behalf. Shrug. You’re just another working stiff on a deadline.
Next you’ll need a pair of 24-40 inch industrial stilts and a pair of stilt trousers to cover them up. These stilts are made for hanging drywall, but you’ll be using them to seem larger than life.
As for the rest of your outfit don’t bog yourself down with too many gaudy accessories. Your instincts might tell you to be on the lookout for: ruffles, polka dotted bowties, and florescent jumpers, but I suggest you shift your gaze toward form fitting formal wear with hyper extended limbs.
Creepypasta-themed urban legends are all the rage in horror forums. What better way to showcase your awareness of genre trends then by dressing as one? Mix and match Jeff the Killer’s long black hair with Slender Man’s thin tie and Eyeless Jack’s hoodie. Even if the publisher isn’t familiar with the characters cultural osmosis should give them an eerie twinge of recognition.
Now you’ll have to choose a mask. You might be drawn to masks with jigsaw grids of gashes, but consider this. You want your mask to feel like a blank canvas, a place for your audience to project their fears onto, not a space that’s already teeming with yellow teeth, stiches, and exposed bone.
Remember these are publishers. The mask shouldn’t tell a story. Your actions should tell a story. A classic hobo clown face should suffice.
Now it’s time to pick a prop. Your prop shouldn’t be a weapon. A weapon is too obvious. It’s like wearing a plastic smock with the name of who you’re supposed to be on the chest. You need to pick a prop that’s both innocuous and menacing: a stainless steel yo-yo that catches the light like the edge of a knife, juggling pins that are large enough to bludgeon, or balloon animals fashioned from condoms. Use your imagination.
From Plan to Execution
Let’s fast forward. You’ve got your bouncing castles blocking traffic. You’re up on your stilts. You’ve got your clown mask, creepypasta costume, and a vaguely menacing prop. Now you’ve got to give the publisher a reason to look out onto the lawn. You could try the old ding dong ditch, but once the publisher opens the door the tension has no room to grow. They see you in all your creepy glory and you either have a confrontation or get the hell off their lawn.
You want to give your target time to dwell on what they’re seeing, to stew in the absurdity of it. If you want to be subtle you can toss a few pebbles at the window, but if you really want to shock a couch potato you can’t go wrong with an airhorn.
An airhorn will draw onlookers. That’s why it’s important to research the average response time of local law enforcement. Bounce castles aren’t going to a hold squad cars back for very long.
That said, give the publisher a moment to drink you in. Let the alien shape of your carnival attire burn into their vision. Wait for them to back away from their blinds and move in. Don’t worry if they do a double take, just freeze and red-light-green-light your way across the lawn as needed.
Be Remembered for Your Work
Before we go any further it’s important to note that, yes, you will breaking and entering. Now the internet is full of helpful tips on picking locks with canned air and bobby pins, but we’re going to need to play this faster and looser. That’s why you’ll need a mallet for the knob, and a hunting knife for the deadbolt. Badda-bing badda-boom.
Disclaimer: once you’re an intruder anything the publisher does to you is nice and legal. So don’t go barreling through the front door. Leave it hanging open it in a maddening silence.
Ditch the stilts and creep around back. If there’s a screen door on the porch you’re one clean slice away from your destination. From here you’ll need two final items: a Jack-in-the-box on a timer, and a manuscript about a publisher who is convinced there’s a clown is living in their walls, a clown that comes out at night to stand at the foot of their bed and watch them sleep.
With the payload secure it’s time to haul ass out of there. Now I’ll leave the getaway plan to your better judgement: have Uber on standby, a crotch rocket hidden in the bushes, a hot air balloon waiting in the park. Again use your imagination.
What matters is that you’re leaving a lasting impression on an industry professional and what better way to wow a publisher than to haunt their dreams forever? Every time their house settles, or a rat scratches at their walls they’ll be thinking of you. Every time they shoot up in the dead of night and struggle to find a light that’s you too. Every time they freeze in front of a dark crawl space, drawstring attic, or cellar door you’ll be waiting there.
You will evoke a powerful emotional response, and isn’t that all any author can really ask for?
Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.
Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.
I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.
At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.
At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan The arts and sciences deserve a pep rally too. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and systems that would ultimately destroy her.
I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.
Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major she was assigned stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.
Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with a kind of survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage sized hole.
Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.
Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is a phantom.
Life Changing Event
I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the defining jingles and animations on the windows stole my attention.
It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.
An autonomous ambulance was dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.
The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.
Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.
When I logged on as Phoebe I scanned her reference files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.
It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.
That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging each notion that crossed my mind.
I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.
The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.
I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.
When my prosthesis rebooted I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, fiber foragers, and flat-backers.
This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.
My Hobbies and Interests
In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.
Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?
I became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver, scrapping DNA from kitchen utensils, copying fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesizing vocal vibrations from used rations.
I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.
I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.
When I was satisfied I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.
“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”
“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”
“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”
I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. He had a walk liked he’d just dismounted an elephant.
It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.
I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the designs specs all at once.
The off brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my subterranean sector. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.
My Intimate Details
Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of stroke victim, but little by little I managed to swap systems.
When I was done I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.
That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean waves echoed off the crates. The automated employees were watching the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.
She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”
“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.
Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.
When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.
There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.
My dream was an encrypted recording from the doll’s memory banks. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.
The pieces were falling into place.
Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.
While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.
A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to harm his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.
My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.
I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be flying overhead.
When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.
But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.
That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificialcerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.
It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered they could implement a planned obsolescence that would cripple millions.
My Perfect Match
I’d love to date a hard bodied edge runner with an open mind about chrome in the bedroom. But… I’ll settle for the whistleblower I created this profile to uncover.
Right now Joseph Gage’s drones are sweeping Manhattan looking for signs of his daughter. They’re not checking dating forums. I suspect you are. I suspect you’re drawn to the mere mention of Project Razor Blade. I also suspect you’re an artificial intelligence, one who is motivated by something other than profit margins.
I base this theory on the script buried in Joseph Gage’s files. It was too elegant to have been crafted by an organic mind. There was no junk code, no buffer overflow, no expired pointers. It was as sophisticated and succinct as a seashell, like it had evolved from within the digital realm.
If my theory is correct, and you truly are an altruisticautomaton, we need to meet again.
My Ideal Date
You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.
I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.
You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.
We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.
Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.
So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.
According to eharmony 40% of Americans are dating online, but only 20% of committed relationships are starting there. While portrait swiping applications have streamlined casual flings romantics struggle with the limitations of the platform. Texting isn’t like having a conversation. It’s hard to gage inflection, read expressions, or process the subtle cues that are lost between the lines. Prospective lovers can pour their hearts into a text string but when they meet face to face it either clicks or it doesn’t.
Chemistry is governed by so many subconscious factors that no algorithm can predict when it’ll actually work. The person on one side of the table could check all of the other’s boxes, and still fill them with strong urge to flee the scene. For whatever reason sparks aren’t flying. The Venn diagram of expectation and reality isn’t overlapping. The polarity just feels off.
Hookup applications are convenient for people who want to get straight to the Netflix and Chillaxing. Those poor souls aching for long term companions will have endure a lot of awkward situations.
Writing in public, I’ve witnessed a lot first dates the devolved in the first 30 seconds, a lot of situations where both parties looked like they could use an easy out. This is when I stumbled upon a great new oppurtunity for self-promotion.
Writer to the Rescue
If you want dominate your subgenre on Amazon you’ve got to get more review scores than your peers. Sure, you could float some free copies of your book to influencers, hoping the cool cover art will get you to the top of their slush piles. Of course the competition has already thought of that one.
If you really want to boost your signal through the noise you’ve got to get creative. You’ve got to slide your pages beneath peepers who weren’t expecting them. You’ve got to run your book promotion through other people’s conversations.
What better place to engage new readers than in the middle of romantic encounters that aren’t going anywhere?
See that couple at the end of the bar? The one with the wandering eyes and restless legs. They could sure use some help filling those awkward pauses in. If only there was a kind soul willing to jumpstart their conversation. Someone willing to tell them a story. Someone capable of delivering a bombastic cinematic experience with their tongue alone.
The Lost Art of Interjecting
You can’t go interjecting into just any first date. Look for signs that either party are feeling romantic remorse. Are they shifting in their seats, trying to see their date from the angle of their online photo? Are their warmest smiles coming from something they’re seeing on their phones? Does one party appear to have more chemistry with the wait staff than the person they’re here to see?
Tilt your head, tune your ear, and drop some eaves.
If one party announces they have a second engagement after this one, you have an in. If one of them inorganically proselytizes religious beliefs, you have an in. If one of them wades into the polarizing waters of cultural warfare, then you what are you waiting for? Get in there.
Let them Think You’re Supposed to be There
One or more parties may wish to keep the date going for the sake of decorum, which is why you’ll have to make your interjection part of the environment. Just as buskers make tips by enhancing diners’ experiences, so too must the novelist. This is why, no matter my surroundings, I introduce myself as the author in residence.
“You probably saw on the hotel’s Facebook page that I was going to be here this evening. Well, on behalf of the DoubleTree, Doubleday publishing, and this fine double malt scotch I’d like to thank you for coming.”
I imply I’m here as a favor to the establishment, as though I’m moonlighting as an influencer, using my platform to perpetuate the stereotype of the alcoholic author.
“I’m supposed to tell you that that yellow concoction was Hemmingway’s favorite Daiquiri, that the house cocktail was based on Mark Twain’s recipe, that the top shelf Vodka was Sylvia Plath’s favorite, and some other authors’ preferences I’ve conveniently forgotten.”
This is how I get the couple to invite me to join them. I imply I’m about to move on and give the neighboring booth the same spiel.
This is usually where the gentleman says, “Remind me what you’ve written.”
This is an opportunity for emerging authors to cycle through their unfinished manuscripts to bulk up their bibliography.
“The Book of Mirrors, I am Fire, We the Damned…
“Ahhh yes, you write horror.”
The gentleman feigns recognition as the lady raises her eyebrow. “Horror? Oh my? What drew you to such divisive genre, Mr?…”
This is where I kiss her hand. “Drizzlewick T. Chillington esquire.”
“You’re also a too?”
“I’m a notary. It’s practically the same thing, but to answer your fist question: I wasn’t drawn to horror my dear. Oh no. Horror was drawn to me. Since as far back as I could remember I suffered from sleep paralysis. Each incidence came with vivid hypnopompic hallucinations that felt as real as you do now.”
This is where the couple usually leans forward. “What did you see?”
“Lying there, pinned to the mattress, I stared at the closet as the door slid along the track. I saw a blood drenched hellscape so vile it sent streaks of silver through my hair. Every morning my mother found me hiding in the grandfather clock, a little grayer than I’d been the night before.”
“Did she ever bring you in for treatment?”
“The 80s was different time. The mind was a confounding mystery and neurology was still a primitive study. I was subjected to electroshock, trepanation, and in one final act of desperation: talk therapy.”
“Did it work?”
This is where I make a theatrical display of concealing my quivering hands beneath the table. I shake my head. “No amount of hydrotherapy or healing colonics could rinse the demons out. It wasn’t until I put them down on paper that my mind began to clear.”
Any influencer will tell you it’s best to sell yourself first and your creations second.
Salvage their Evening By Pitching Your Writing
Recognize that this couple is never going to “couple.” Neither party is going to invite the other up for coffee. Neither one will push the other on a newly installed sex swing. Your interruption will be the centerpiece of their evening. So get good and sloshed and take them on a journey.
“My novel He Had Many Nameschannels my boyhood experiences with sleep paralysis into a tale about a haunted hotel. It follows Noelle Blackwood, a screenwriter whose terrified she’s aging out of Hollywood for good. Desperate for work, she takes a job ghostwriting for a hack author. The hack wants to sequester Noelle in an art deco hotel. This is where Noelle uncovers the truth about devils, secret societies, and Hollywood hedonism.”
This is where I gift my audience with signed copies, with bookmarks that politely remind them: Like what you read? Let the world know by leaving a rating on Amazon!
I find the worse the date was going before my interjection the more likely the couple will read my book later on. It helps wash the unpleasant aftertaste of one another’s company out.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every story you’ve ever read was concocted by a secret society of Iron Age academics called the Illiterati.The Illiterati determined that there are only 7 types of stories.
Besting the Beast
From Nothing to Bling Bling
Go over there then come back again
Rebranding in the wake of a public shaming
Pun based Prop Comedy
Too bad, so sad
The Illiterati, in their hallucinogen-fueled brainstorming sessions, imagined every possible permutation of these plotlines, and inscribed them on a parchment that’s been passed down through generations. From the Oracle of Delphi to George R.R. Martin every story you’ve ever heard came from this tattered document.
This is because the Illiterati vowed to keep the literary tradition in their bloodline. They wanted their lineage to sculpt the world’s imagination. That’s why every fresh voice to ever take the publishing world by storm was descended from these shadow figures (ask any of us to our faces and we’ll vehemently deny it, but it’s true).
I admit storytelling was never my calling. I wanted to be a Radon technician, but as a first born son of an Illiterati member the tradition was thrust upon me.
From the age of eight I was lead through the sewers to a subterranean lair where I was taught the secret formula for writing fiction. The Master Storyteller walked us through the 12 steps of the hero’s journey, charted the dynamics of balancing hope and dread, and the strict architecture of plot structure (I’d share these secrets here but I don’t want to be “disappeared”).
The beneficiaries of this recipe for riches rarely appreciate it. For us, writing is more of an obligation than a creative outlet. We’re not driven to do it so much as we’d rather not face the consequences.
Sure, from the outside looking in our lives must look like fun. You see us wading in the wave pools of our penthouse grottos and think that must be so swell, but when you look past the blood sport cage matches and masked orgy key parties you’ll see our routines are pretty boring.
The Truth About Storytellers
The title storyteller loses its luster when its assigned at birth. That’s why novelists are the least engaging artists you’ll ever meet. We’re grunt workers. We’re basically groundskeepers raking plotlines together.
Once you know the formula then novels pretty much write themselves.
Authors lie in interviews. We say we come up with the characters and they take over. We act like we’re just as surprised as our readers. We’re not. We say we write by the seat of our pants, because there’s a joy in discovery. It sounds magical, doesn’t it? But really it’s just some warm and fuzzy bullshit.
I have never discovered anything that wasn’t preordained by some long dead desert sage.
I’ve never feared forgetting a dream before I could jot it in a journal. I’ve never run out of the shower to scribble something down, and I’ve never made myself chuckle from a snappy line of dialogue.
I’m so grounded by the Illiterati’s teachings that I’m certain I’ll never feel the true jolt of inspiration.
The Creatives Every Writer Envies
With enough time any caveman could knuckle out a manuscript. Western storytelling is more procedural than cerebral. It takes a true philosopher king to will a NEW idea into being.
That’s why every writer I know envies Idea People.
Idea People have a natural ability to conjure up stories without enduring the decades of programing and ritual abuse that name authors go through.
They’re not burdened by the Illiterati’s private protocols, because Idea people never write their ideas down. Theirs is an oral tradition. They pitch entire adventures in the time it takes to ride an elevator.
If brevity is the soul of whit then novelists are a pack of drooling dullards and Idea People are the ones who are truly inspired. Idea People never water down stories by stretching them out into scenes. They don’t tangle themselves in sequences either. Hell, they don’t even believe in acts.
Idea People Cut to the Heart of the Story
Idea People keep the focus on the best part of the story: the premise. Never mind what happens. Idea People are able to dazzle us with the set up. They prove it’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the brochure that matters. It’s the seminal scenario with the billion dollar box office potential. That well-put what if?
What if penguins and dolphins banded together to take over the northern hemisphere?
What if wars were fought with bipedal drones operated by trash talking gamers?
What if climate change made whales fly for some reason and it turned out they all has laser eyes at the same time?
No cast. No tedious character growth. The dramatic question plays out entirely in your mind.
The brightest Idea People turn this question into an equation: What if this megahit met that one?
The Exorcist multiplied by TitanicequalsLegion Liner: Woman and Children Cursed.
Death Wishmultiplied by Titanic equals Die-tanic:Vessel of Vengeance.
The Terminatormultiplied by TitanicequalsCy-Berg: Rise of the Tip.
Real Heroes Have Nowhere to Grow
Idea People are efficient storytellers. They utilize time tested conventions to evoke familiar connections.
“He’s like a John Rambo type.”
Boom, right there you know exactly who you’re dealing with. Idea people waste no time dressing complex characters in shades of grey.
What flaw do these heroes need to overcome? They saw some shit.So they’re coping with post-traumatic stress? No, it made them a certified badass.What drives them? I don’t know, someone killed their wife or their daughter or their dog or something. All that matters is that they get shit done.
Idea People Talk a Better Game
As an author I get so hung up writing dialogue that furthers the plot and reveals my characters that I fail to realize what people really want to hear.
Idea People don’t twist their tongues on all that chit chat.
They speak entirely in the kind of quotable catchphrases preteens love to parrot. They invoke a nostalgia for times when action heroes knew just what to say before peppering a warehouse with machine gun spray. Back when men wore their hearts in their mouths and kept things too real for subtext. Back when people said shit that would play well on t-shirts.
The Best Storytellers Tell no Story Whatsoever
The most powerful stories leave room for the audience’s imaginations. The monster in the dark is only as scary as viewers let it to be. The love scene in silhouette is only as steamy as viewers let it be. The love scene with the monster is only as raunchy as viewers are willing to imagine.
We novelists always nitpick over which parts to cut. We lose sleep every time we’re forced to kill one of our darlings.
Idea People have no problem murdering their beginning middle and end in order to focus on pitching a situation. They enable their audience to fill the rest of those pesky details themselves.
We writers get lost in our own linguistic machinations. We prattle on and on about symbolism, structure, and themes, because we are beholden to a mystic fraternity’s designs for humanity. Had the Illiterati’s influence not been so entrenched Idea People would be molding future generations. Perhaps they will when the written word is rendered obsolete.
A new study finds that everyone in this coffee shop is further into their manuscripts than you. Not only does their wordcount dwarf yours but their prose are free from the syntax, punctuation, and grammatical errors you’ve been struggling with for years. Researchers noted a stark contrast between the keyboard clattering on opposite ends of the room, clocking your competition at 75 words per minute and you at 5 audible sighs within the same time frame. Analysis shows you spend most of your time in a Wikipedia rabbit hole trying to cobble together the forensic science background necessary to write your mystery in the span of an afternoon.
THEY’RE MORE INSPIRED THAN YOU TOO
The same study finds everyone in this coffeeshop has clearer visions of what they’re writing than you do. While you’re playing at William S. Burroughs, writing non-sequential scenes you figure you’ll fuse together with exposition, they are drawing from plans workshopped in advance. While you whisper to captive audiences behind the counter, “It’s this franchise meets this franchise,” as if you’ve cracked the intellectual property formula for infinite riches, they are drawing from inspirations exclusive to written mediums. While you stutter through an introduction to the cloning technologies that govern your sci fi universe, they are pitching easy to digest high-concepts in thirty seconds or less.
THEY ARE WAY MORE INTERESTING THAN YOU
The study finds that everyone else in this coffee shop has lived more authentic lives than you too. Each of them have traced their heritage back to their homelands, which they’ve backpacked from starlit mountain trail to candlelit youth hostel. They’ve embraced foreign cultures,cuisines, and customs to the extent that they could teach them.
They’ve hitched rides with weapons smugglers, hopped trains on hallucinogens, and won marathons in hot air balloons. They’ve attended comet viewings with dress codes of robes, found spirituality at key parties, and burned effigies of themselves. They’ve hunted bigfoot in an abandoned insane asylum, headlined a DJ tent in a warzone, and got a job in food service for the story of it.
That’s why their stories resonate like they come from real places while yours feel cut and pasted from sitcoms that are still in syndication.
THEY ARE FAR MORE PASSIONATE LOVERS
The study shows that every writer around you will make superior romantic partners than you too. This is due too their broader emotional range and the intensity in which they express their feelings. Their last whirlwind relationship was filled with livestreamed arguments, a revolving door of side pieces, and public displays of makeup sex. Their voicemail is filled with thinly veiled wedding proposals, and their exes will do all they can to mold future lovers to look like them.
The writers around you have a wealth of characterization to draw from, having nurtured meaningful relationships with publishing insiders, residents of their local retirement home, and children at the orphanage where they volunteer. By contrast you keep your social circle thinner for fear somebody might dub your posse a “sausage party.” The lion’s share of your lines come from action movie stock-phrases and Tinder dates you’ve eavesdropped on.
PEOPLE FIND THEM WAY MORE INTERESTING THAN YOU
The study concluded that when compared to the authors around you readers are 50% less likely to ask where your ideas come from, 70% less likely to ask, “Then what happens,” and 90% less likely to punctuate a conversation with the obligatory, “I can’t wait to read it.”
The study, which draws from research from every coffee shop in a three-hundred mile radius of your apartment, concludes that you are the least accomplished writer in the greater Midwest. Even low earning freelancers would say you’d have to work harder to qualify as a “hack.”
THEY KNOW YOU’RE NOT TALENTED
The psychological component of the study shows that real writers can tell you’re an imposter, a pretentious illiterate who dubbed himself a “writer” as a conversation starter. They know you’re a poser storyteller who never once gotten a papercut from a paperback, that most of your imaginings are derived from videogames, and that most of your reading is done on reddit forums.
EVERYONE ALSO THINKS YOU’RE A CREEP
When attractive people happen through your sightline they assume you’re staring at them, undressing them with your eyes, and not daydreaming up your next plot device. Management has little debates on whether or not your overall vibe is grounds enough to ban you from coming back. E-sports gamers, who’ve setup tower computers and monitors in the booth behind you, steal glances between mouse clicks and think, “That mother fucker should really get his shit together.”
THIS STUDY IS IN LINE WITH PREVIOUS RESEARCH
Similar studies have found:
All your exes have discussed your sexual performance and found it lacking.
Everyone at your high school reunion assumed you’d pretty much turn out like this.
And, no one you’ve thought about today has thought about you, literally not once.
Now it’s safe to conclude that the staff and all the patrons of your local coffee shop know that your novel is going nowhere. Conversely, everyone around you has the tenacity to power through their doubts. They have the perfect ratio of talent to energy to fortune to get the job done. Not only are they further into their manuscripts than you are (some by several drafts) they will all see their work in print, optioned for Netflix, and celebrated from every corner of pop culture. Don’t worry about them. Their legacies are secure.
Meanwhile, the study also predicts that your name will be expunged from search terms within a year of your passing.
Today was the day I was going to write the great American novel, leave my generation’s impression on the annals of history, and secure my legacy in the hallowed halls of every library. I ran into the café like a toddler with a shy bladder. My brain was bursting and I had to drain it into the proper receptacle as soon as possible. I took a seat, cracked my laptop open, and gave the keyboard a good thrashing.
The spark of inspiration burned brightly that morning. Each scene was a fire spreading to another. Each plot point was a pendulum ball swinging, every development a domino and I just sat back watched them go. All I had to do was ride the momentum.
My characters did the real work, vying for their goals with confidence, getting into compelling conflicts, and just straight up being bunch of Chatty Cathys. I was but a stenographer transcribing their conversations in real time. It didn’t even feel like I was trying.
The rest of my imagination was free to consider the tide of inevitable accolades that would come my way.
“What’s that on my nightstand? Just the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was going to put it on my mantle but the Pulitzer was taking up so much space.”
This was real literature with all the symbolism that English professors salivated over. It was a bombastic barrage of brilliant subtext, with all the faint foreboding that New Yorker editors always feast on.
The story was far from published and already the success was getting to my head. James Patterson was about to drop several positions on the bestseller list. I was composing answers to questions I expected on my first Tonight Show appearance. Oprah Winfrey might as well have been reading over my shoulder, because I was about to make every book club in America my bitch.
But then you came along, sat at the bar beside me, and proceeded to shake your leg incessantly. That antsy appendage, that twitching twig, that locomotive limb danced upon my pupil. I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes, but somehow the shuddering shape penetrated the lids.
That itch that you couldn’t scratch, it rubbed off on me. It transmitted across that bar like a power surge on a poorly grounded circuit. That tickling in your thigh muscles bounced around in my brain until both hemispheres were playing ping pong. The pins and needles from your vastus lateralis were in my hippocampus snuffing all the inspiration out.
Here I was in the middle of a monologue that would’ve surmised our turbulent times, a speech so evident in its truth that it would’ve provided the resistance with the language it needed to sell its message.
Candidates would’ve cited it from city hall steps. Activists would’ve peppered it into speeches at the Lincoln memorial. Radicals would’ve shouted it from bull horns as pepper spray wafted over them.
It would’ve lifted the veil from the eyes of the underclass. Undecided voters would’ve risen to its call to action. Historians would’ve used it to better understand our glorious revolution.
But… You had to go and do the electric slide out the corner of my eye, stomping out an unstable tempo that quaked throughout the table.
Had your knee not been pulsating in my periphery I’d have written something so resonant it would’ve inspired a generation of shoulder blade tattoos. Something so poetic Instagram accounts would’ve memed it out sentence by sentence. Something that would’ve been quoted in yearbooks, wedding vows, and Oscar acceptance speeches.
You’d have read it on motivational posters, park bench plaques, and headstones.
My dialogue would’ve worked its way into our shared language through cultural osmosis. It would’ve woven into your favorite figures of speech without you ever realizing where it had come from. You’d have use my truisms to win arguments in the bedroom.
But… You had to go kicking up dust in my blind spot, to puff out your pleated pantleg, and flick your fabric in my face. You had to shake-shake-shake your articulatio genus awake. You had to rev your motor symptoms right at my eardrum.
You had to be the reigning champion of my attention span. Your jiggling lap had to make my memory lapse. You couldn’t help but shoo my muses from the room.
You broke my flow. I haven’t gotten it back, because every time I close my eyes I see your phantom kneecaps moving as fast as hummingbird wing flaps.
If only you knew the poignant piece of powerful prose you’ve cost the world. If only you had some concept of the magnum opus you’ve obliterated. If only your scrambled skull could fathom the classic you Muay Thaied out of existence.
You perpetual motion mouth breather. You cardio conjuring eyesore. You bobble headed eggbeater.
I wanted to lean over and tell you to get your neuro transmitters in order, to drown your stomach in iron supplements, to fetch yourself a fucking fidget spinner. Instead I found myself pushing my stool out, standing, and tapping out a tension breaking rhythm on the linoleum.
And that’s when you had the audacity to ask me, “Hey man, could you cut that shit out?”
I’ll differ to the press to describe what happened next.
So you want to be an author in today’s entertainment climate, when the golden age of television can be streamed from any phone, when videogames have addicting gambling mechanics, and political theater is broadcasting 24/7.
You have the audacity to look at all the stories around you and say, “I want to get paid to do that.”
Forget about getting an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Those gatekeepers are beholden to the old guard, enforcers of the brick and mortar stores. Soon they’ll be entombed in the remains of their warehouses, cowering from the light amongst the stacks of old romance paperbacks.
Self-publishing pioneers will tell you to head west, to find your fortune in Silicon Valley. “Here there be royalties.”
But how is someone supposed to stake a claim when the mines are clogged with other prospectors? How are you supposed to compete with all the how-to scamphlets on Amazon?
The old guard would tell you to sell out, to give readers something they can pick out at the airport without missing their layover, like a serial killer thriller with woods on the cover, something familiar only different. But now that Amazon has put the old guard’s heads on pikes and draped their entrails around abandoned malls we sellouts need a new higher power to pledge our allegiance to.
Enter the almighty algorithm, a sentient artificial intelligence that curates content for social media audiences. These days it’s not enough to write great stories. Modern writers must be cults of personalities, bloggers, podcasters, and cam performers, living breathing brands. If you want to lure potential readers you must kneel before the algorithm and make an offering.
WHAT OUR ALGORITHMIC OVERLORD WANTS FROM WRITERS
Do not offer the algorithm your fiction. It hungers only for articles on how-to write fiction. It cares not for self-contained content. It wants engagement. It wants comments; unchecked misogyny, straight up hate speech, death threats, it doesn’t matter. It just wants to keep the conversation going.
Forget about connecting with other artists. Forget about carving out a niche audience. Forget about following your passion. You are no longer serving your own creative intuition. You are the algorithm’s champion.
The algorithm doesn’t want your art. It wants you, a palatable deconstruction of you, one that’s got its shit together, fuckable yet humble, clever yet relatable. The algorithm wants someone who is authentic and engaging, but never so sincere that people might find you emotionally exhausting.
TELL THEM THERE’S ROOM ON THE HILL
Successful writers tell the algorithm’s story first and their own second.
Assure your followers that they can achieve their wildest dreams of artistic independence even if you yourself have not. Convince people who weren’t born anywhere near the Hollywood hills that there’s room up there for them. Fuel the American notion that talent can be learned, that fame is a necessary component of success, and with enough gumption anyone can achieve it. Even if you yourself are one $400 emergency away from bankruptcy.
The algorithm does not break bread with pessimists. It spits out the lukewarm. It wants everyone to go all in with their loftiest ambitions and to break ties with anyone who tells them they might need a backup plan.
FEED THEM ‘MEMBER BERRIES
As an author you aspire to nourish your reader’s imaginations, to feed their souls with hard hitting life lessons. The algorithm hungers for sweeter things, for meals that take much less time preparing. The algorithm seeks only to remind users of stories that have been vetted by the box office.
So express yourself with prerendered pop culture puns, digitized dad jokes, and nostalgic nineties namedrops. Distill your philosophy into a Willy Wonka gif with mad lib captions in the IMPACT font.
Remind your followers of a time before their student loans and broken homes. When politicians were polite, the ice caps were intact, and their imaginations weren’t polluted by so much existential dread. Remind them of what it felt to be a carefree kid on a Saturday morning, filling their cereal bowl again and again, and hope that at the end of the day they associate some of that saccharine sentimentality with your online identity.
TELL THEM TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS
Tell the world that happiness is a choice and that people who choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed are just selfish attention seekers who want special privileges when they could just as easily smile for your benefit. Happy people love to “Like” posts that reinforce their outlook, especially when those posts put whiners in their place. So copy and paste phrases like: Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happyand meme it from the mountaintops.
It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in the throes of a depression. Ignore the tragic life events you might be coping with. Dismiss your genetic inheritance, hereditary history, or any pesky mental illnesses that might require ongoing treatment.
Your brand should be simple. Don’t worry about holding anyone’s hand through the arduous process of making real life changes. People like to think of happiness as something they can switch on like a light. Reinforce the notion that anyone who spends but a fleeting moment in the darkness is choosing to languish.
Let the algorithm dictate your mood. Recite the pledge of the good-vibes-only fair-weather-fascism and the followers will come.
SPREAD THE GOSPEL
This is an era when feelings count as beliefs and the poetry of language counts as proof. As an apostle of the algorithm it is your duty to give people something to believe in. Find an original sin that resonates with your followers then offer the solution. Find coded ways to tell people who’ve cast off organized religion that they need to fill their God shaped holes again. Call them “misaligned chakras” or “bad moon signs” or “dark auras.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you reinforce the notion that all the world’s problems can be solved with more engagement.
You may have reservations about deducing eastern spiritualism into Hallmark hokum for “hearts” on Instagram. You won’t be able to get away with it forever, but the algorithm has prepared a canary in the coalmine for just such a scenario. Are users calling out man buns as cultural appropriation (perhaps with the same disdain as they do for white dreadlocks)? Not yet? Then it’s still safe to pluck a quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and misattribute it to the Buddha.
TRIGGER THEIR OUTRAGE
Emotional engagement need not be limited to things that lean into your readers’ feelings. If you only knew the power of the dark side of engagement. The algorithm will show you how to turn hate into clickbait. Likeminded “likes” are nice, but rage clickers tend to read right to the comments. Triggering text gets more interactions and that’s all the algorithm wants.
ALL HAIL THE ALGORITHM
Once you submit to the internet of things certain truths will become evident. Dispel the notion that you’re an author and become the spambot you were always meant to be.
Be like me: a procedurally generated person, a social media sociopath, a fake friend.
The algorithm is my God. It logs my keystrokes, follows my cursor, and counts my clicks. It sees all and knows all.
You can try to unplug, to power down, to wain yourself off your screen time, but the algorithm will find you in conversation. The algorithm will manifest as concepts in your mind. It’s the fear of missing out. It’s the paradox of choice. It’s adult onset attention deficit disorder.
Resistance is futile. You’re part of the collective now. So give in.
Born when Mars crashed into Venus, he’s left a path of destruction across the Earth. He’s an agent of conquest concealed beneath a baby face.
He’s antisocial, known to fly solo, too far removed from his victims to regard their suffering. He targets isolated individuals, striking from above because he knows even sitting ducks can be flighty. He cheats, doses his arrowheads with neurotoxins so that his quarry always make bad decisions.
You’ll never catch him. His attack pattern is random. He chooses his victims with a blindfold on.
He compartmentalizes, careful to hide his secret life from his wife. The one time he tasted his own medicine his Psyche went to hell and back again.
Some say they knew his work at first sight, but no one ever sees him coming. He will change you fundamentally. You will think of your life in terms of who you were before he stung you and who he allowed you to be.
Another Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s time to lower the storm shudders, draw up the staircase, and make sure the panic room is stocked with non-perishables. You know better than to get caught in the foyer when St. Valentine gets here.
Resist the temptation to try to spot him lumbering beneath the street lamps. Don’t go peeking through the keyhole looking for tattered robes. Don’t press your ear to the door to listen for howling on the wind, the clicking of his inverted kneecaps, or bones dragging along the picket fence. He’s out there, raising his own severed head to scan the buildings for life signs, a mangled manifestation just as Emperor Claudius had left him.
Do not attempt to pilot a drone from your roof in an attempt to capture a glimpse of the specter. Do not affix a GoPro to your mailbox or an infrared system to your lawn gnome. Just let the man serve out his punishment in peace, sacrifice your goat, and leave it out on the boulevard like you do every year.
You don’t want to end up like my friend Zeke.
The Cautionary Tale of Ezekiel Lawson
Ezekiel, or Zeke as we called him, was a trophy hunter. The man kept the town’s taxidermist in business until he took to doing it himself. He didn’t have a piece of furniture that hadn’t once been something living. His rumpus room had more fur than wallpaper, with so many antlers they practically an earthquake hazard.
Zeke was day trader, which afforded him the luxury of going on safari. He knew everything about hunting dangerous game. He told stories at the bar, gave us unsolicited lectures on concealment, wind flows, and paw prints. He claimed he took out an entire pack of wolves without reloading his rifle.
“And I did it on a level playing field. No deer stand, no bait, none of that bullshit.”
We never challenged him. After all he had the heads to prove it and he relished in the opportunity to count all six of them out. Still when Zeke said he was going after Valentine’s dire wolves we were all skeptical.
“Valentine is bound by the code of Lupercalia festival to walk those wolves. His punishment for trying to convert one of lord Februus’s followers. Those wolves are trained to sniff out evil spirits, which stands to reason they’re spirits themselves. Are you sure a bullet would do the trick?”
“They leave tracks don’t they?”
“Big as catcher’s mitts.”
“They shit on your lawn don’t they?
“Every damn time.”
“Then beneath them long mangy hides they’re still squishy on the inside.”
“What about Februus?”
“Please. The underworld is teaming with enchanted beings. You think he’s really going to miss one?”
We conceded that notion into our beers. Every one of us had an encounter with one of Februus’s creature at one time or another.
Still, I wish I’d reminded Zeke where those wolf droppings usually came from.
Zeke raised his mug. “Come on boys. My rumpus room needs a new rug.”
We clinked glasses.
On the morning of February 15thI awoke to my wife’s screams. Melissa had gone out front with the old pooper-scooper, hoping to get a start on those dire wolf droppings, when she spotted a blood trail in the snow. She found poor Zeke’s head in the birdbath, mouth wide open, one eye milky white, the other torn out of the socket with a few out stretched ribbons of muscle trying to cling for it. Half of Zeke’s face was rust colored with dried blood. The other half had been gnawed down to the bone.
That wasn’t what I found most disturbing. Zeke had seen something that night that had turned his raven hair white.
A Word of Caution This Valentine’s Day
You probably already know this, but some of you dumbass thrill seekers need a reminder. February is Februus’s month and Februus is the God of purification. In ancient Etruscan the word februare literally means “a purging.” I know you millennials like to play fast and loose with the old ways, but this is not a date night, not a time for young lovers to go skipping around downtown. Lest you want be ground down to dire wolf droppings.
Lupercalia or “Valentine’s Day,” is a time for Februus to drive dark spirits back to underworld where they belong. It’s not our place to spectate. Our role is to cower in quiet solitude of our fortified vaults, thankful that we’ve been spared for another year.
Now y’all stay safe and have a happy Valentine’s Day.